Here it is folks! A new digital remaster of the work that is often cited as The Album That Slew Progressive Rock. A Passion Play has never sounded better and is presented here in all its bombastic downbeat glory, complete with a vintage Quicktime video of "The Story of the Hare Who Lost His Spectacles". With A Passion Play, Jethro Tull very bravely decided to devote the entire record to one 45 minute composition as they had previously done with Thick as a Brick. While mainstream rock critics may have been scratching their heads over Tull's motivation for recording a lyrically oblique but musically very dynamic album full of English humor that possibly only the band members themselves could fully appreciate, A Passion Play is almost exclusively a dour affair. And the critics were merciless in their reviews. The savaging was so ferocious that Jethro Tull announced a retirement from touring, an ill advised scheme that Ian Anderson briefly discusses in the new liner notes.
A Passion Play concerns itself with death and earnestly dares us to imagine what could be waiting on "the other side". Personally, I've always enjoyed the open ended nature of the lyrics. They work best as a series of bizarre images rather than as a linear concept piece. Despite the very often serious subject matter and the darker music on display, APP isn't completely devoid of humor. The booklet contains a reprint of the original faux ballet program complete with character bios and the whole package really smacks of Monty Python-esque comedy. The play itself is interrupted by the infamous "The Story of the Hare Who Lost His Spectacles", an absurd intermission that succeeds in breaking up the lengthy album storyline while also rather rudely disrupting the mood and flow of the album.
A Passion Play is chock full of excellent musicianship that surprisingly never overreaches the way that Tales From Topographic Oceans by Yes(in many ways, APP's spiritual twin and catalyst for the progressive rock backlash by critics) is occasionally guilty of. The lyrics aren't so impenetrable as on Thick as a Brick and the dullish thudding production is given the best upgrade that modern digital remastering can achieve. It's taken Jethro Tull nearly twenty years to finally get around to properly remastering and repackaging their back catalog as the original releases on CD were some of the worst sounding digital product I've ever heard. Happily, the wait has been worth it. Thirty years on, A Passion Play still manages to intrigue; delightfully "artsy and pretentious".